(Loving Christ series)
A young woman in England many years ago always wore a golden locket that she would not allow anyone to open or look into, and everyone thought there must be some romance connected with that locket and that in that locket must be the picture of the one she loved. The young woman died at an early age, and after her death the locket was opened, everyone wondering whose face they would find within. And in the locket was found simply a little slip of paper with these words written upon it, "Whom having not seen, I love." Her Lord Jesus was the only lover she knew and the only lover she longed for. -- R.A. Torrey
I read a story about a dedicated Christian working in an amazing way with the underprivileged people in London, England. She was a Jew who had fled the German Gestapo in France during World War II. As she fled, she knew she was close to being caught and she wanted to give up, but she came to the home of a French Huguenot. A widow lady came to that home to say that it was time to flee to a new place. This Jewish lady said, "It's no use, they will find me anyway. They are so close behind." The Christian widow said, "Yes, they will find someone here, but it's time for you to leave. Go with these people to safety--I will take your identification and wait here."
The Jewish lady then understood the plan; the Gestapo would come and find this Christian widow and think she was the fleeing Jew.
The Jewish lady asked her why she was doing that and the widow responded, 'It's the least I can do; Christ has already done that and more for me."' The widow was caught and imprisoned in the Jewish lady's place, allowing time for her to escape. Within six months the Christian widow was dead in the concentration camp.
This Jewish lady never forgot that. She too became a follower of Jesus Christ and lived her life serving others. She met God through the greatest love a person can give--personal self-sacrifice. --James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988), p. 444.
I would like to read another story of love for Christ. It is found in Luke 7:36-50. (The Message)
“One of the Pharisees asked him over for a meal. He went to the Pharisee’s house and sat down at the dinner table. Just then a woman of the village, the town harlot, having learned that Jesus was a guest in the home of the Pharisee, came with a bottle of very expensive perfume and stood at his feet, weeping, raining tears on his feet. Letting down her hair, she dried his feet, kissed them, and anointed them with the perfume. When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man was the prophet I thought he was, he would have known what kind of woman this is who is falling all over him.”
Jesus said to him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”
“Oh? Tell me.”
“Two men were in debt to a banker. One owed five hundred silver pieces, the other fifty. Neither of them could pay up, and so the banker canceled both debts. Which of the two would be more grateful?”
Simon answered, “I suppose the one who was forgiven the most.”
“That’s right,” said Jesus. Then turning to the woman, but speaking to Simon, he said, “Do you see this woman? I came to your home; you provided no water for my feet, but she rained tears on my feet and dried them with her hair. You gave me no greeting, but from the time I arrived she hasn’t quit kissing my feet. You provided nothing for freshening up, but she has soothed my feet with perfume. Impressive, isn’t it? She was forgiven many, many sins, and so she is very, very grateful. If the forgiveness is minimal, the gratitude is minimal.”
Then he spoke to her: “I forgive your sins.”
That set the dinner guests talking behind his back: “Who does he think he is, forgiving sins!”
He ignored them and said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”
The thoughts I want to share with you today and for the next three weeks were prompted by the book which the librarians have chosen as the book of the month. It is called, “Loving Christ” and is written by Joseph Stowell who is president of Moody Bible Institute. Today, I want to ask all of us, “Do you love Jesus?”
I. Do You Love Me?
When we lived in Steinbach there was a widow who lived in the apartment below us. She lived there with her adult son who was an alcoholic and was known as the town drunk. As you can imagine, he did not have a good reputation.
When we lived in Manitou, there was a particular lady who lived in the same community. They used to talk about her in the coffee shop and I got the impression that she could be bought. She did not have a good reputation and was looked down upon by the people of the town.
That is who the woman in Luke 7 was. The text says that she “lived a sinful life in that town.” In other words, people knew her and looked down upon her because of the lifestyle that she lived.
We may wonder what she was doing at the banquet of Simon the Pharisee, but that is easy enough to explain. In that day, if there was a banquet, special guests would be invited to come and join in the meal and celebration. Other people from the town would know that the banquet was on and because they did not have doors or guards or even triple pain windows, many people would come uninvited and listen in on the conversation at the table and perhaps even beg for food. Many people were very poor and needed to find food wherever they could. At the banquet they had lots of food and because they did not have refrigeration the food had to all be eaten. When the quests had finished, others would come and ask if they could finish what was left. So it was not impossible for a prostitute to be among the uninvited guests.
Even though it may not have been unusual for her to be there, what she did while there was unusual. When she did it, everyone, invited guests and those standing around uninvited would have become quiet, stared at her, whispered to each other and probably run her down.
Standing with the uninvited crowd, she saw Jesus there. It is more than likely that she had met with him before and knowing he would be at the banquet, she had come with some intention of letting him know how she felt. As we set the scene, you have to remember that they did not sit at a table, but reclined on cushions as they ate, so their feet would stretch out behind them. She came up behind him and knelt at his feet. As she stood behind him, she was overcome with emotion and began to cry uncontrollably. Her tears fell on Jesus’ feet. Seeing this, she perhaps became anxious about this mishap and without regard for the shamelessness of the act, she let down her hair and began to wipe the tears with her hair. Her approach to Jesus and her tears were all motivated by a deep love for Jesus which was now revealed even more as she began to kiss his feet. Then, having come prepared to do so, she poured out a jar of expensive perfume on his feet, in an act of costly love for Jesus.
Her deep act of love arose out of her heart and she was not afraid to act on it. In fact, hers is probably the most visible, public act of love for Jesus or for God of anyone in all of scripture. It is unashamed, deeply felt and openly acted upon. She loved Jesus with a deep and powerful love and was not afraid to show him and everyone else.
After Jesus rose from the dead, he appeared to the disciples and on one of those occasions, he spoke directly to Peter who had recently denied knowing Him. In John 21:15-17, we have the story in which Jesus asked Peter three times, “Do you love me?”
Today, the story of the woman invites us to pose this question to ourselves, “Do I love Jesus?”
If I am truly honest with myself, I have to admit that I do not love Jesus, at least not like the woman did. In my heart I know that I love myself, I love fun, I love ease and comfort. I don’t have any problem expressing enthusiasm about a lot of things and speak with passion about things that interest me, but how often do I speak with passion about my love for Jesus.
I suspect all of us struggle with this. We are filled with self indulgence, or self pity, because we are filled with self love, not love for Jesus.
One writer says, “If we love Christ, He wants to know where He stands among all the stuff of our lives.”
I admit that I have a long way to go towards loving Jesus like this.
II. How Great Is the Love of Christ!
How can we love Him that much? How did she come to love Him that much?
As we have already said, she was a sinful woman, likely a prostitute, and had a bad reputation in the town in which she lived.
How did people look at her? How did the women of the town look at her? I wonder if they didn’t look at her with disgust and anger. Some of them perhaps wondering if their husband had been with her. The men would have looked at her with outward disgust, but with inward lust or at least sexual interest. She saw all of these attitudes on their faces and as a result formed her own view of herself which was a reflection of the opinions of others. She probably had low self esteem, a huge burden of guilt hidden by bravado, she may have felt dirty and likely hopelessly lost seeing no chance of change.
But then she met someone who looked at her in a completely different way. As I have suggested, this was likely not their first meeting. Jesus had probably been teaching in town and she may have met him and when she did she looked into the eyes of someone who saw her in a completely different way and immediately everything changed. She looked into the eyes of a man who did not look at her sexually, who saw past the dirt and past the brazenness. Here was a man who looked at her purely, compassionately and with the right and the will to forgive her.
As she saw the look in His eyes and heard his message, she knew that dying dirty and without hope was not her end. Suddenly she knew that forgiveness and cleansing were possible and she accepted that forgiveness.
In order to explain her strange behaviour to his host, Simon, Jesus told the parable about two men who owed money to a banker. One owed a large sum of money and the other a sum 1/10 the size. Both were unable to pay it and both were forgiven of the debt. With this parable, Jesus helps the Pharisee and us understand that, the person who has been forgiven much loves much. It was because she knew how much she was loved and how much had been done for her that she loved in this way.
Why do we not love Jesus as she did?
One reason may be that we have not understood the magnitude of our sins. She knew what a great sinner she was. Simon did not know what kind of a sinner he was. We often do not understand what kind of sinners we are. We do not understand that every sin, whether in deed, word or thought is a sin against God and violates his very being. When David sinned against Bathsheba and Uriah, he recognizes in Psalm 51:4 that “against you, you only have I sinned.” His sin, great as it was against Bathsheba and her husband, was against God. He knew it and sorrowed for it. Do we?
Not only do we not realize that all our sin is against God, we also do not realize how much we sin and until we place our lives in the light of the holiness of God, we will have a hard time understanding that we are not as good as we think we are. Until we understand the holiness of God and the way in which we violate his holiness in major ways every day, we will not understand how much we have sinned, nor how much we have been forgiven. The closer we come to God, the more we will know that we are hopelessly lost. The more we understand that, the more we will grasp the wonder of the grace we have received. As we understand these things, we will also begin to love much.
We also do not understand how much we have been loved by God. We do not know the great depth of love with which he has loved us in sending Jesus to die on the cross. We do not know the thousands of ways in which God extends his love to us every day. Besides our forgiveness and salvation, Christ is the provider of many grace gifts each day, many of which we do not recognize. He is our advocate and defender against the enemy. He is our security and confidence in a hostile world. He is our helper and friend. Stowell wrote, “If we had the smallest glimpse of the depth and breadth of the gift of Christ’s love for us, we would be jealous of the fact that she did what we wish we could do at Jesus’ feet.”
In Ephesians 3:18, Paul prayed for the Ephesians. He told them that he prayed regularly that they would know “how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.” Whether through meditation or praying for ourselves and for others, we need to ask God to help us know fully the great depth of His love for us for it is only as we come to know His love for us that we will learn to express our love for Him.
III. Expressing Our Love For Him
And so in response to such a great love shown to her, she responded in a great love for Jesus. What does love for Christ look like?
A. Love From The Heart
It was a love that did not arise out of duty or obligation, but out of passion and from the heart.
Although we worked hard not to put pressure on our kids because they were “PK’s” it didn’t always work. When grandma buys a shirt that says “I’m a little PK” and when other people put expectations on our kids, we found out later that there were expectations. They were expected to behave in a certain way. It is the same with being a pastor. I am expected to live and act in a certain way. When I begin to act that way because of the expectations people have of me, I act out of duty.
But is it really any different for any Christian? We are all expected to be good. We live in a certain way so we won’t disappoint our parents, won’t get caught, won’t suffer the consequences, won’t appear to be hypocrites and won’t ruin the reputation of Christ. One person writes, “we have to be good. After all, we’re God’s kids and the world is watching.” But are any of these motivations adequate?
As we think about this matter of loving Christ, a certain sense of duty and obligation arises within us that may make us feel inadequate and uncomfortable.
The actions of the woman did not arise out of such a sense of duty. Her love was not a response that she thought she should do. When she engaged in her unusual display of love for Christ, she did it entirely out of her heart.
Joseph Stowell says, “It is a mark of growing up spiritually to want to do what the Father wants us to do, not out of duty but out of an overriding sense of adoration and devotion. Maturity is measured in our lives when we are gripped with the astounding reality of God’s mercy and grace that we gladly serve Him regardless of the toil or denial involved. Authentic Christianity is developing an adoring gratitude that transforms our lives with unquenchable love for Him.”
What is love for Christ? “…it is a commitment driven and defined by my response to the marvellous gift of grace that He has generously showered on my life.”
B. Acts Of Love
Elizabeth Barret Browning wrote “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.” When she asked this question, she was asking the question of love languages. She was asking, “what are the ways that I can show love to you that you will know that I love you?” The concept of love languages asks the question of how we can communicate our love to another person in such a way that they will know that we love them.
“If Jesus has a love language, she (the woman in our story) spoke it.” What was her love language?
1. An extravagant love.
The first thing that strikes us is that her expression of love was an extravagant act.
The perfume she brought was costly. In a day when people did not have cabinets full of personal hygiene products, a bottle of perfume would have been a prized possession. It was likely the only thing she had that would make her smell nice. For most women, it would have been reserved for special occasions and would have to last a long time. Since they were not mass produced, each scent would have been a woman’s signature.
She brought her best to Jesus and by pouring it out on Jesus all at once, she did something so extravagant that even today we wonder at the waste. But is it ever a waste to give our all to Jesus?
Stowell says, “The mediocrity of our Christianity becomes nakedly apparent when we stop to consider the last time that we did something radical, risky, or expensive to simply say to Christ, ‘You are worth it all and more.’”
We are so conservative and if anyone ever did something different out of love for Christ we would probably criticize them. Remember when King David brought the ark into Jerusalem? The story recounts that David was so moved with love for God that he danced mightily before the Lord. His wife was disgusted by his inappropriate display. Are we inclined to be like the woman in our story and like David or are we more like David’s wife? In our love for Christ, let us not be afraid to be extravagant in our display of that love.
2. A Transforming Love
Furthermore, her expression of love was a transforming love.
Stowell writes, “For a woman to let her hair down in public was a forbidden act of sensuality; it would be as shocking as a woman going topless in our day.” Yet for her, as a prostitute, this was an act which she had done many times for many men.
What was she doing by letting her hair down in the presence of Jesus? This time it did not have the meaning it had had many other times. This time, she was bringing her past and surrendering it at Jesus’ feet. Stowell says, “she is bringing her past ways of living, the tools of her trade, and laying them at Jesus’ feet in an act of purifying surrender.” Showing love in this way is “a living testimony that we no longer need the shameful stuff of our past because our love for Jesus is far more compelling than anything we have loved before.”
When we sing the song “All to Jesus I surrender…” do we really understand that love for Jesus is a total surrender of all we are to God?
In Loving Christ, there is the story of Tom Maharis who is pastor of Manhattan Bible Church. He was a drug pusher and was miraculously redeemed from his sinful and devastating lifestyle. When he came to Christ, he expressed his love for Christ by going back to the very place in which he had lived in sin and bringing to that place the word of hope in Christ.
Love for Christ is an expression of what Christ as done for us. It is offering our transformation back to Christ for His use.
3. A Courageous Love
Her expression of love was also courageous. To stand in the crowd and watch the proceedings was one thing, but to separate herself from the crowd and make a spectacle of herself was quite another. Not only did she make a spectacle of herself but she walked right into a hostile forum to express her love. She didn’t care who was there, what people would say, who was watching or who thought less of her for it. She said nothing, but what she did impacts us the most of anyone in the story. Jesus was worth the risk to show up at her accuser’s party and worth the embarrassment to step from the crowd. She had one focus - a focus on Jesus - and that one focus allowed her to ignore all the others around her and tell Him she loved him.
Why is it that it takes courage to publicly and openly tell of our love for Jesus? If we fall in love with someone, it doesn’t take long and we want to let others know. In fact, we can hardly help letting others know. If we truly loved Jesus, wouldn’t it be the same? Wouldn’t we want our love Him to show so much that we would be glad to let it be seen? O that I loved him that much.
4. A Serving Love
Finally it was a servant love. The posture of being at Jesus feet is a posture of servanthood. At his feet, she served him and the comparison with the failure of Simon to wash Jesus’ feet and anoint him demonstrate that she had thought about what she could do for him.
As we love Jesus, our love is often best expressed in what we do for him. The example of Mother Theresa who served the poor in India is a good example of love for Christ expressed in service towards others. Brother Lawrence was a monk of the middle ages and is known to have expressed his love for Christ in the act of washing dishes.
It is possible to serve out of entirely selfish motives or perhaps more often mixed motives, but the service that is pure is one in which we consciously think about doing whatever we can to show our love to Christ.
The love of the woman for Jesus stirs something deep in my heart. Way down deep, I know that I have received a great love from Him. As I watch her care nothing about those around and focus solely on Jesus and her love for Him, something in me says “amen.” But when I look at my life and the choices I make, I know that I do not love like that. What can I do about it?
We cannot expect to love Him perfectly. Only He has loved us perfectly. But we can grow in our love. As we grow to realize God’s love for us we will grow to respond in a genuine love for him. It will not be another project that we have to master. Rather, we will open our hearts to Him
As we learn to love, we need to love honestly. Stowell writes, “have you ever assumed that you are doing Him a favour, and that, after all, He is quite blessed to have you loving him?” Love is not about doing right, appearing right, thinking that we are doing God a favour. It is about a natural response to what we have received because we truly love Him.
Oh Lord, teach me to love you with an extravagant love!